Monday, October 16, 2017

Process Goals: 6 Ways Slowing Down and Thinking Small Will Help You Write Your Book

Climbers ascending Mount Everest.

Writing a book can feel like climbing Mount Everest. Process goals will cut that mountain down to size.


Psychologists differentiate between outcome goals (write a book) and process goals (the steps it will take to write a book). The outcome goal focuses on the big picture and the end result—a diamond-studded World Series ring, an Emmy, the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby.

An outcome goal (Bestseller! Glowing five-star reviews!) is one over which you have no control. No wonder you feel overwhelmed and intimidated before you even begin.

The big picture is, well, big. You can’t control it and it’s hard to define. Do you want a bestseller? NY Times or USA Today or both? A nomination for a literary prize? Pulitzer? National Book Award? A book your Mom/third grade teacher/college professor will be proud of? A book that will get revenge on the guy/gal who dumped you and prove to the world that they were wrong and you were right?

Even if you can pin down what you want from the book, you still have to write it.

OMG, a book? 60,000-100,000 brilliant, well-chosen words that actually make sense?



Where do I begin? Even if you’re an ace outliner and have nailed the plot, where do you begin? For a clue, see Anne’s post on first chapters and mine on first chapter blues.
Who are the characters? Good guys and bad gals. Or vice versa? And don’t forget about character arcs. Decisions, decisions.
What about the voice? You mean writers need to have a voice? What’s that and how do you get one?
What’s the time frame? The Middle Ages? Today? Tomorrow? The day after?
What’s the setting? A secret galaxy? Paris in the 1920s? Wall Street in the 1990’s? A rice paddy in Indonesia? A high rise in San Francisco? A favela in Rio?

The possibilities are limitless.

The choices almost infinite.

No wonder we feel paralyzed.

We can’t decide. Don’t know where to begin. In fact, just contemplating the whole idea of writing-a-book gives me a headache and I’ve written lots of them.

Like Scarlett, I’ll think about writing-a-book tomorrow.

Meanwhile, excuse me while I lie down and take a nap.

Think Big–and Fail.


Remember “Too Big To Fail?” They were talking about banks back then but, when it comes to writing-a-book, “too big” is almost a guarantee of failure.

Remember our big picture: bestseller, literary prize, a smile from Mom, a moment of delicious revenge? Problem is, you can’t control readers, buyers, literary critics, Mom (no kidding!), or the ex who done you wrong. No one can.

Bestseller, literary prize, a smile from Mom, a moment of delicious revenge are outcome goals and for someone thinking about writing-a-book they’re Bad News.

Did Mark Zukerberg create the early, collegiate version of FaceBook in his dorm room and think he would one day be one of the richest men in the world? I doubt it. I suspect he was eating chips and thinking about the next line of code.

Ditto Henry Ford. Did he imagine he was going to revolutionize transportation, set the foundation for highway systems around the world, create the assembly line and the global demand for fossil fuels when he put the first Model A on the road? Nope. Don’t think so.

And what about Warren Buffett? What did he have in mind? Become the investment guru whose every pronouncement was taken as gospel? Doubt it. He was most likely thinking about how to make a few bucks in the stock market.

And Steve Jobs? What did he have in mind? Changing the world? Well, come to think of it, knowing what we know about Steve, he probably did think he was going to change the world. 

Why Books Don’t Get Finished.


Writing-a-book is probably one of the main culprits that results in books that get started but never finished. They’re the unfinished books languishing on dusty hard drives, the books that get talked about in bars and writers’ groups but never written must less finished, the big dreams that fizzle into disappointment and dashed dreams.

Still, books do get written and they do get published. What’s the secret? What divides writers from wannabes?

The key is thinking small or, as psychologists would say, setting process goals.


Process Goals are the Steps you Take to Get Where you Want to Go.


Whether you’re a tennis player trying to win Wimbledon, an architect designing a house, or a writer aiming to write (or finish) a book, the concept of process goals will cut what seems an overwhelming task down to size.

The tennis player will focus on the cross court volley at hand, not the trophy at the end. The architect will focus on the living room window, not the house. The writer will concentrate on the chapter not the book, the paragraph not the chapter, the sentence not the paragraph.


1. Process goals are bite-sized and achievable.

A well-chosen process goal will keep you from feeling frustrated and falling into a self-sabotaging downward spiral of self-criticism. For example, your process goal might be to write 500 words a day every day.
Not so few words you feel you’re investing time and energy to accomplish nothing. Not so many that you flirt with failure from the beginning, feel discouraged and frustrated and give up almost before you start.

2. Process goals protect you from perfectionism.

Your goal is to write 500 words, not 500 “perfect” words. It doesn’t matter if those 500 daily words are “good” or “bad” because—
The writer is the last to know (ask me how I know!)
Editing will be your next step (or process goal.)

3. Process goals keep your motivation in high gear.

You know from experience that you can write 500 words before you leave for work or when you get home or after the kids are in bed. Hitting that target every day will ensure that you don’t get frustrated and paralyzed. Instead, slow but sure, you will feel an on-going sense of accomplishment which fuels your motivation.

4. Process goals will force you to focus on today’s 500 words.

Not the 60,000-100,000 words that seem Everest sized and impossible. Because they are. Impossible. Can’t climb a mountain in a day. Even billionaires (male or female) put on their pants one leg at a time. A writer can write only one word at a time. Including Tolstoy or J.D. Salinger or any other famous writer you can think of.

5. Process goals force you to concentrate on performing the task at hand.

As you write your daily 500 words, you are concentrating on a sentence or a paragraph or a scene. Or even le mot juste. You are not spinning your wheels thinking about writing-a-book and all the uncontrollable glories (or setbacks) that will follow.

6. Process goals will slow you down and calm you.

The undefined, outcome goal of writing-a-book can and will cause intense anxiety. Focusing on a scene, a paragraph, a sentence will quell stress. The consequence is that you will avoid the nasty wingmen of stress: writer’s block and the blank mind face to face with a blank screen.

Get from here to there, from a nifty idea to a book, with the help of process goals!


Originally published at Anne R. Allen's excellent blog. 

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